By: Brian Gunn
Kathy Rain is the debut game from Clifftop Games, a point-and-click adventure about a journalism student that may need to change her major given the tag-line is “A detective is born.” Does the debut stand out among the crowd of indie adventure titles, or does it stumble right out of the gate?
Point-and-click titles aren’t known for very complex controls, and Kathy Rain doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Simply pick up everything you can find and combine the inventory on things that make sense (and some that don’t just for fun). There are a few minor issues with the interface once you have enough inventory items to require a second page, as combining items between the two pages feels like a slight hassle, but that’s only briefly annoying.
Kathy Rain is a pixel art game, and like others designed at a specific resolution, playing it on modern monitors can cause the style to be harmed a bit. Thankfully it’s not too bad a translation, though some things stand out.
Portraits are great, but the faces on character models make the titular character go from biker-punk chick to someone that would look at home hanging out with hair metal bands. It ends up faring better than some other Adventure Game Studios engine games thanks to scenes that are often smaller and less busy.
Under the direction of Wadjet Eye’s Dave Gilbert, Kathy Rain features full voice acting. Most of the cast is pretty good, and I particularly enjoyed the quick-witted voice and writing for Kathy as well as the creepy rhyming nature of the game’s villain. Music and sound effects are generally solid but don’t particularly stand out.
Kathy Rain has returned to her dorm room after a rough night out to find that her grandfather has died thanks to a nosy roommate. The next day she returns to her sleepy hometown for his funeral, and like any small town it has loads of mysterious secrets to unravel.
Unbeknownst to Kathy, her grandfather had entered a vegetative state years prior to his death that nobody could explain, and she sets out to understand what exactly happened to him, uncovering more than a few dark secrets along the way.
Of course, unearthing those secrets means dealing with puzzles and uncooperative locals. The puzzles are sort of odd in Kathy Rain, bouncing between too simple and overly obtuse.
There are, for example, three instances where you need to distract a cop and use something near his desk, and the distraction is the same all three times. There’s no twist each time you return, and you can’t get it all done at once either as the story requires going back to follow up on leads.
Meanwhile, the obtuse puzzles seem to all involve cryptic ways to figure out unlock codes and combinations to various safes and briefcases, though these at least offer up a decent challenge.
Still, puzzles are not the strong suit of the game, the story and characters generally are. Kathy is a great lead, at times dark and mysterious while maintaining a charismatic quick wit about her. The game deals with themes rarely seen in games, like suicide and mental illness, and handles most of them well, though when tackling abortion it felt a little slight.
To get too deep into the story would spoil things, but it seems to have been influenced by things like Twin Peaks in that it starts off as just a general normal mystery but isn’t afraid to get a little weird with things, either.
One nice touch I liked about the game was Kathy seemingly really learning via the puzzles. While I harped on repeating the distraction for a puzzle, two separate puzzles involve learning the computer credentials of different people, and the game has a different twist on the puzzle the second time that relies on skills she learned earlier.
Kathy Rain also does well with actually feeling like a detective, with scouring phone books and pretending to be the police when out of leads. Many games star detectives or investigators, especially in the adventure genre, but Kathy and the player actually feel like one.
The story does end a little anticlimactically, but it does imply interest in exploring the character further, as while most mysteries are solved about her grandfather, more remain regarding the rest of her family.
Kathy Rain is a great debut from Clifftop Games with a compelling protagonist and interesting eerie plot I was hungry to get to the bottom of. The puzzles could use a little work (and perhaps be more character oriented), but I’m intrigued to see where the developers go in the future, and whether Kathy returns or not.